Florida tight end Dante Zanders feels “like a kid like the night before Christmas” ahead of Saturday’s season opener against No. 7 Utah. The Boca Raton, Fla., native enters his redshirt senior year at UF and has never been more confident in himself.
“When I first came in at tight end, my confidence wasn’t as high as it is now . . . because I wasn’t really as big as the defensive ends we used to play against,” he said. “Hitting every day during practice and banging with the offensive tackles and each other just built my confidence [at] tight end to help me with my blocking.”
New Era Under Napier
Zanders not only expects an improved version of himself this season, but he also anticipates a much more disciplined team under head coach Billy Napier. “Last year, I feel like we were really undisciplined. We had a lot of silly penalties that could have been avoided,” Zanders admitted. “[Napier] came in and he just structured everything to make sure that everybody knows what they need to do.”
Zanders praised Napier’s diligence in preparing each player for the season. “[Napier] wants to make sure everything is prepared, so that way when it comes down to the game time, there’s no excuses,” he said.
In particular, Zanders noted a mental improvement in Florida’s third phase: special teams. “Our special teams is more locked in and more focused,” he said. “[Napier] makes sure that each person like knows their job and knows their role.”
In addition to discipline, Napier’s primary focus during the offseason was conditioning his players. “Condition was our main priority because we want to be able to out-beat the other team,” he said. “When it’s crunch time, we don’t want be tired.”
Zanders expects the Gators to boast “an explosive offense” led by quarterback Anthony Richardson. Zanders noticed an improvement in Richardson’s leadership role and confidence and called him “Kadarius Toney at the quarterback position” due to his impressive playmaking ability.
In the trenches, Florida expects to be stronger and smarter this season. “Our offensive line improved a lot from last year,” Zanders said. “Our lineman got bigger, they got faster, they got stronger during this offseason training. They got smarter with all the 4D training and learning multiple things.”
Zanders called Utah’s team physical and experienced. “For us to open against [Utah] is an experience,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity — too — to show and prove what we’re made of.”
Home Opener Atmosphere
As Saturday approaches, Zanders explains how entering Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the first time as a Gator is a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“Even if you don’t play , you just walk out there and you look up and you see 90,000 and the lights all around you,” he said. “It’s just an incredible moment”